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CULTURE

The 10 biggest culture shocks experienced by foreigners in Austria

Moving to any country will involve a bit of a culture shock. But what are the things which will disturb you the most when you move to Austria?

The 10 biggest culture shocks experienced by foreigners in Austria
FRED DUFOUR / AFP)

No matter whether you’ve moved across the border or across the world, some Austrian cultural quirks can be difficult to get used to. 

From getting naked in public to a stubborn adherence to smoking indoors, these are some of the quirkiest culture shocks foreigners are likely to experience in Austria. 

People like getting naked

Freikörperkultur (FKK) or nudism is still a thing in Austria. It’s quite normal to encounter a naked sunbathing area when going to a swimming pool, or cycling along the Danube at the weekend.

In addition, if you go to the sauna, swimming costumes will most definitely be frowned upon, even in mixed saunas. In some cases you’ll be asked to remove your clothes.

Did Austria’s culture of public nudity – FKK – surprise you when you arrived? Photo: FRED DUFOUR / AFP

For anyone unwilling to nude up, the most you can hope for is a small towel to cover yourself up with. 

Smoking

Although an indoor smoking ban was passed in 2019, Austria still has large numbers of smokers compared to other European countries, which can be unsettling when you first move here.

Vaping does not seem to have caught on yet. 

The German language

Fiendishly difficult grammar and compound nouns which go on forever, German is a famously difficult language to master.

READ MORE: These eight words show just how different German and Austrian Deutsch can be

You can expect to make at least one howler, with people often mistakenly saying they are sexually aroused “Ich bin heiss!” when they mean they are too warm, with one poor expat announcing to an entire restaurant she loved foreplay (Vorspiel) rather than starters (Vorspeisen).

The ‘pus sausage’

Food may be a bit of a shock when you come to Austria. The country seems to specialise in a never-ending variety of pork-based fat bombs guaranteed to give you a heart attack.

A case in point is the Käsekrainer, a sausage stuffed with oozing cheese. It’s sometimes described as a pus sausage (Eitrige), due to the risk of hot cheesy fat shooting out when it’s bitten into.

A look at the popular “Kaesekrainer” sausage (“Cheese Krainer”). One man’s pork-based fat bomb is another man’s pleasure. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER KLEIN (Photo by ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP)

Another tip – don’t take a large helping of Kren (horseradish), because you think it is cheese. It might look similar, but it does not taste the same. 

General grumpiness

To be fair, this is probably more of a Viennese trait, but grumpiness is one of the things people notice most when they move to the Austrian capital.

Despite having (officially) the world’s most liveable city, the Viennese love to grumble.

They have a special word for it, “raunzen” – which roughly translates as to grumble, moan or whinge. Perhaps it’s the refusal to settle for anything but the best which keeps Vienna’s quality of life consistently high. 

READ MORE: So why is Vienna the most liveable city in the world?

According to a worldwide survey of emigrants, Vienna is the 65th friendliest city out of 72, with language barrier cited as a particular difficulty of fitting in. 

The Viennese are in fact known for being a pessimistic bunch and for “Schmaeh”, a sardonic sense of humour.

Grumpy waiters

Grumpiness is particularly evident if you wander into one of Vienna’s famous coffee houses, where you will often be met by a formally dressed waiter with an air of disdain.

Sayings abound about these Viennese waiters. You should never ask them for tap water or ask for a caffe latte (the correct word is a Melange). However, the grumpiness of the waiters is all part of the charm, with many leaving appreciative messages about the “authentic” service they have received in Viennese coffee houses on review websites. 

Save the small talk

While once you get to know Austrians they are very friendly, people rarely indulge in small talk with strangers. Some say it is considered “fake” to force a social exchange with someone you don’t know that well. Having said that, people can also be very kind and helpful in Austria. 

READ MORE: Where do Austria’s foreign residents come from and where do they live?

Two duvets

It’s common in Austria for couples sharing a bed to each have their own duvet, rather than one between them. Maybe it’s those chilly Austrian winters which mean people are unwilling to risk a howling draught coming into the bed. 

Shoes off!

One thing you will notice if you go to an Austrian home is you will need to take your shoes off the minute you walk in the door.

Even the streets of Austria are very clean, let alone the floors of people’s homes.

Expect to be handed a pair of slippers – known as Hausschuhe (house shoes) once inside. Even schools often don’t allow shoes to be worn inside.

Don’t jaywalk

Not only is dashing across the roads against the lights frowned upon, it can also land you with a hefty fine if you are caught by the police.

Unlike more disorganised countries, in Austria people patiently wait for the lights to change before crossing the road. 

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CULTURE

How to greet people like a local in Austria

There are several ways to greet people in Austria – all with different meanings. So stop saying “Hallo” and learn how to sound like a local instead.

How to greet people like a local in Austria

Saying the right thing at the right time is usually a good way to sound like you belong somewhere. And in Austria, you can start from the first moment you meet someone.

Here’s a selection of Austrian greetings and their meanings to help you sound more like a local in the Alpine Republic.

READ ALSO: All churned up: Austrian oat milk ad draws farmers’ ire

Servus

“Servus” is a popular greeting in Austria and Bavaria in Germany. The word “Servus” actually means “greetings” and can be used to say hello or goodbye, similar to “Ciao” in Italian.

The roots of this greeting date far back; it comes from the Latin word servus, which means “slave” or “servant.” So if someone greets you with Servus, it roughly translates to “I’m your servant” or “At your service!”

Usually, servus is a colloquial way of greeting people you know better, especially friends. It is also one of the few historical words that is still widely used amongst teenagers today.

Guten Tag

This is an easy one to remember (no matter how bad your German language skills might be) and simply means “Good day”. 

However, it is quite a formal greeting and outside of some of Austria’s main metropolitan centres, it’s rarely heard. Instead, “Guten Tag” is mostly used by German people or some left-wing Austrians who prefer to opt for a neutral greeting in a professional setting.

This was highlighted in a recent debate in Vienna when a politician was criticised for using the traditional “Grüss Gott” greeting during a parliamentary inquiry, as reported by The Local

FOR MEMBERS: Austrian clichés: How true are these ten stereotypes?

Grüss Gott

“Grüss Gott” is widespread in the Catholic German-speaking world, such as Austria, the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, and in South Tyrol. 

Strictly speaking, it means: “God greets you”. It is similar to “Pfiat di Gott”, which comes from “Behüt dich Gott” or the Swiss “Grüezi”. Initially, these phrases meant a blessing.

The spiritual background leads to the fact that “Grüss Gott” is still used today primarily by religiously influenced, more conservative people, or those living in rural areas. On the other hand, more secular, left-oriented people tend to use different formulations such as “Begrüsse Sie” (Greetings) or  “Guten Tag”.

However, the way of greeting currently gives less clear information about worldview and political affiliation. “Grüss Gott” often has as little to do with religion as “Gott sei Dank” (thank God). 

Griass di

“Griass di” is another general greeting that simply means “greetings” or “hello”. 

You can use this at any time of the day, although only when greeting one person. To greet multiple people with “Griass di”, switch to “Griass eich” for plural, or even “Griass enk” for a regional variation from Tyrol.

READ MORE: Eight habits that show you’ve embraced life in Austria

Guten Morgen/Abend

The meanings behind “Guten Morgen” or “Guten Abend” are simple: “good morning” (until midday) and “good evening” (from around 6pm). Just don’t expect to hear them very often in Austria.

These greetings are very much Hochdeutsch (High German) sayings and many people in Austria prefer to use regional dialect instead.

If you say “Guten Morgen” or “Guten Abend” to an Austrian, you will be understood. But they will probably say something different back to you, like “Servus” or “Grüss Gott”.

Moagn

This is basically the Austrian dialect equivalent of “Morgen”, which means “Morning” and is short for “Good morning”.

It’s usually said in a cheery way, especially if coming across other people during a morning walk or when entering the workplace.

But, as with “Good morning”, this greeting is strictly reserved for the morning time and should not be said after midday.

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